United States District Court, D. New Jersey
Jose L. Linares, Chief United States District Judge.
before the Court is the complaint of Plaintiff, Maheshkumar
Patel. (ECF No. 1). Also before this Court is Plaintiffs
application to proceed in forma pauperis. (Document
3 attached to ECF No. 1). Based on Plaintiffs application, it
is clear that leave to proceed in forma pauperis is
warranted in this matter, and therefore this Court will grant
Plaintiffs application to proceed in for ma
pauperis. Because this Court is granting that
application, however, this Court is required to screen the
complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).
Pursuant to this statute, this Court must dismiss Plaintiffs
claims if they are frivolous, malicious, fail to state a
claim for relief, or seek damages from a defendant who is
immune. For the reasons set forth below, this Court will
dismiss the complaint in its entirety.
Maheshkumar Patel, is a convicted state prisoner currently
confined in Northern State Prison. (ECF No. 1 at 2-3). In his
current complaint. Plaintiff seeks to raise claims against
his former defense counsel, Vincent Scoca, whom Plaintiff
hired to defend him on various kidnapping and sexual assault
charges in 2010. (Document 1 attached to ECF No. 1 at 1-3).
In essence, Plaintiff asserts that Scoca failed to live up to
his contractual obligations to Plaintiff during the course of
his criminal proceedings, ultimately resulting in Plaintiff
pleading guilty when he otherwise would not have done so
absent Scoca's alleged failings. (Id.)-
Plaintiff thus asserts that Scoca proved constitutionally
ineffective in representing him, took advantage of Plaintiff
and his family, and thus derived profit without providing
Plaintiff with the services they had agreed would be
performed on Plaintiffs behalf.
Prison Litigation Reform Act, Pub. L. No. 104-134,
§§ 801-810, 110 Stat. 1321-66 to 1321-77 (April 26,
1996) ("PLRA"), district courts must review
complaints in those civil actions in which a prisoner is
proceeding in forma pauperis, see 28 U.S.C. §
1915(e)(2)(B), or seeks damages from a state employee,
see 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. The PLRA directs
district courts to sua sponte dismiss any claim that
is frivolous, is malicious, fails to state a claim upon which
relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a
defendant who is immune from such relief This action is
subject to sua sponte screening for dismissal under
28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) because Plaintiff has been
granted in forma pauperis status.
to the Supreme Court's decision in Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, "a pleading that offers 'labels or
conclusions' or 'a formulaic recitation of the
elements of a cause of action will not do.'" 556
U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). To survive sua
sponte screening for failure to state a claim,  the
complaint must allege "sufficient
factual matter" to show that the claim is facially
plausible. Fowler v. UPMS Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203,
210 (3d Cir. 2009) (citation omitted). "A claim has
facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content
that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that
the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged."
Fair Wind Sailing, Inc. v. Dempster, 764 F.3d 303,
308 n.3 (3d Cir. 2014) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at
678). Moreover, while pro se pleadings are liberally
construed, "Pro se litigants still must allege
sufficient facts in their complaints to support a
claim." Mala v. Crown Bay Marina.
Inc., 704 F.3d 239, 245 (3d Cir. 2013) (citation
omitted) (emphasis added).
in his complaint, seeks to raise claims against his former
criminal defense attorney for alleged violations of his
constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
"To establish a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a
plaintiff must demonstrate a violation of a right protected
by the Constitution or laws of the United States that was
committed by a person acting under the color of state
law." Nicini v. Morra, 212 F.3d 798, 806 (3d
Cir. 2000); see also Woodyard v. Cnty. of Essex, 514
F.App'x 177, 180 (3d Cir. 2013) ("Section 1983
provides private citizens with a means to redress violations
of federal law committed by state [actors]."). "The
first step in evaluating a section 1983 claim is to
'identify the exact contours of the underlying right said
to have been violated' and to determine 'whether the
plaintiff has alleged a deprivation of a constitutional right
at all."' Nicini, 212 F.3d at 806 (quoting
County of Sacramento v. Lewis, 523 U.S. 833, 841 n.
5 (1998)). Here, Plaintiff appears to be attempting to assert
claims against his former criminal defense attorney for
violations of his right to counsel during his criminal
proceedings, as well as pendent state law claims either for
breach of contract or legal malpractice against the same
sole federal claim raised in Plaintiffs complaint is a §
1983 claim in which he asserts that his former private
defense counsel failed to abide by their contractual
agreement and thus denied Plaintiff the effective assistance
of counsel. A private defense attorney, however, is not a
proper defendant in a § 1983 matter as defense counsel
do "not act under color of state law when performing a
lawyer's traditional functions[.]" Polk Cnty. v.
Dodson, 454 U.S. 312, 325 (1981). Indeed, even
"public defenders and court-appointed counsel acting
within the scope of their professional duties are absolutely
immune from civil liability under § 1983" for this
same reason. Walker v. Pennsylvania, 580 F.App'x
75, 78 (3d Cir. 2014) (quoting Black v. Bayer, 672
F.2d 309, 320 (3d Cir. 1982), abrogated on other grounds
by D.R. v. Middle Bucks Area Vocational Tech. Sch., 972
F.2d 1364, 1368 n. 7 (3d Cir. 1992)). Because the sole
Defendant named by Plaintiff is a private defense attorney,
Defendant is not a proper § 1983 defendant. Moreover, in
any event, Defendant is entitled to absolute immunity under
§ 1983 for the actions he took in his capacity as
Plaintiffs lawyer. As such. Plaintiffs sole federal claim
must be dismissed with prejudice for failure to state a claim
for which relief must be granted in so much as the sole named
Defendant is not a proper defendant and is immune from suit
under § 1983. Although Plaintiffs sole federal
claim is being dismissed with prejudice. Plaintiff also
raises several state law claims against Defendant -
specifically breach of contract and legal malpractice.
However, because this Court has dismissed the sole claim
Plaintiff has raised over which this Court had original
jurisdiction, the Court will decline to exercise supplemental
jurisdiction over Plaintiffs pendent state law claims.
See 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(3). To the extent
Plaintiffs state law claims have merit, he must pursue them
in state court. Plaintiffs complaint shall therefore be
dismissed in its entirety.
reasons stated above, this Court will grant Plaintiffs
application to proceed in forma pauperis, but will
dismiss Plaintiffs complaint (ECF No. 1) ...